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5th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (Cycle C)

Readings:
Isaiah 6:1-2a, 3-8
Psalm 138:1-5, 7-8
1 Corinthians 15:1-11
Luke 5:1-11

Abbreviations: NJB (New Jerusalem Bible), IBHE (Interlinear Bible Hebrew-English), IBGE (Interlinear Bible Greek-English), or LXX (Greek Septuagint Old Testament translation).  CCC designates a citation from the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The word LORD or GOD rendered in all capital letters is, in the Hebrew text, God's Divine Name YHWH (Yahweh).

God's divine plan for mankind is revealed in the two Testaments and that is why we reread and relive the events of salvation history contained in the Old and New Testaments in the Church's Liturgy.  The Catechism teaches that the Liturgy reveals the unfolding mystery of God's plan as we read the Old Testament in light of the New and the New Testament in light of the Old (CCC 1094-1095).

The Theme of the Readings: Receiving the Call to Discipleship
Today's readings deal with the call to discipleship and service for the Old Testament prophet Isaiah, St. Paul the apostle to the Gentiles, and the leader of the Apostles, St. Peter.  In the First Reading God calls Isaiah in the 8th century BC to be His prophet and to speak God's word to the covenant people of Israel.  The experience of coming into the presence of the holy and eternal God is overwhelming for Isaiah who is immediately ashamed of his sinfulness and human inadequacy.   In response to Isaiah's shame and repentance, God in His grace purifies Isaiah and forgives his sins, spiritually preparing Isaiah to take up his mission so he can answer God's call to servanthood by responding "Here I am...send me!"

In the Second Reading St. Paul recalls his experience when he encountered the Resurrected Christ and was called to discipleship.  Paul admits his inadequacy in not being fit to be called an apostle because he had persecuted the Church prior to his call.  Yet, he says, Christ forgave him, and Paul testifies that it is because of the grace that God extended to him that he has been effective in answering his divine calling.

In the Gospel Reading St. Simon-Peter has an experience that is similar to the call of Isaiah and St. Paul.  On the shore of the Sea of Galilee, Peter is overwhelmed by his sinful human nature when confronted by the sinless Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth, who calls Peter to "Follow Me!"  Falling on his knees in repentance, Peter asks Jesus to depart from his sinful presence.  But Jesus extends His divine grace to Peter, calming Peter's fears and answering that he will be successful in his mission to serve the Lord as "a fisher of men."  Peter will call the men and women of his generation to have faith in believing that Jesus is the promised Messiah who will bring salvation not only Israel but who will also extend His gift of salvation to all man and women in the human family. 

What is so extraordinary concerning the call to discipleship of these three men is that they had the faith and courage to leave everything in their past life behind to follow God's divine call.  But their call is not unique.  Down through salvation history God continues to call the faithful to discipleship in taking up the mission to carry the Gospel of salvation to the ends of the earth.  Have you answered that same call of the Lord God, and have you been willing to leave behind what is temporal in this like to seek what is eternal in the next life?

The First Reading Isaiah 6:1-8 (NJB) ~ Isaiah's Vision of the Heavenly Court and his call to Divine Service
1 In the year of King Uzziah's death, I saw the Lord seated on a high and lofty throne; his train filled the Sanctuary [Hekal].  2 Above him stood seraphs, each one with six wings: two to cover its face, two to cover its feet and two for flying; 3 and they were shouting these words to each other: "Holy, holy, holy is Yahweh Sabaoth.  His glory fills the whole earth."  4 The door-posts shook at the sound of their shouting, and the Temple was full of smoke.  5 Then I said: "Woe is me!  I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, Yahweh Sabaoth."  6 Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding in its hand a live coal which it had taken from the altar with a pair of tongs.  7 With this it touched my mouth and said: "Look, this has touched your lips, your guilt has been removed and your sin forgiven." 8 I then heard the voice of the Lord saying: "Whom shall I send?  Who will go for us?"  And I said, "Here am I, send me."  [...] = literal Hebrew translation.

Isaiah received a theophany of God and experienced his prophetic call in c. 740 BC (some sources list the date as 742 BC) in the year of King Uzziah of Judah's death.  It was the year that Uzziah's son, Jotham, succeeded him as king of the Southern Kingdom of Judah, and Menahem was king of the Northern Kingdom of Israel (reigned 743-738). 

I saw the Lord seated on a high and lofty throne; his train filled the Sanctuary [Hekal].
In his vision, Isaiah is taken up into the heavenly Temple.  He saw God sitting on His throne like an earthly king, but Yahweh is the sovereign King over all humanity.  The Hebrew word Hekal is the same word used for the Jerusalem Temple (i.e., 1 Kng 6:3, 5, 17, 33; 7:21-50; etc.).  The desert Sanctuary and the larger Jerusalem Temple were patterned after the heavenly Temple and its furnishings (Ex 25:8-9).  The verse says Isaiah "saw" (ra'ah can mean "saw, discern, or perceive") the Lord seated on a high throne.  It was always the teaching that no human could see the face of God and live (see Gen 19:21 and as God told Moses in Ex 33:20; Dt 18:16), so Isaiah probably thought his death was imminent.  But did he actually see God or only perceive a visually ill-defined figure seated on a throne covered by His garment and obscured by the smoke that filled the Sanctuary (verse 4).  There were various individuals, however, who were permitted to see God's representative, the "Angel of the Lord," especially where there was an element of encouragement and confirmation (i.e., Gen 16:9-13; 28:13-15; 32:31; Ex 24:9-11; 34:5-10; Judg 6:11-24; 13:33). 

2 Above him stood seraphs, each one with six wings: two to cover its face, two to cover its feet and two for flying...  The seraphs (seraphim is the plural in Hebrew) were a class of angels.  The word seraph means "fiery ones" or "burning ones."  They are the attendants or guardians who stand before the divine throne who have human shape and are equipped with six wings: two of which cover their face to shield their eyes from the magnificence of the Almighty, two to cover their bodies in modesty, and two wings for flying.  They are believed to be the same supernatural beings that carry Yahweh's chariot-throne in the Book of Ezekiel chapters 1 and 10.  Later tradition gave the names seraphim and cherubim to two classes of angels.  Cherubim guarded the entrance to Eden after Adam and Eve were exiled (Gen 3:24), and two statues of cherubim adorned the lid of the Mercy-seat of the Ark of the Covenant (Ex 25:22; 33:7-11).  The seraphim are also described by St. John in Revelation 4:6b-9.

In the past men been privileged to be the first to view the heavenly throne room in Exodus 24:9-11.  At the covenant ratification ceremony, Moses, Aaron, two of Aaron's sons and the seventy elders of the tribes of Israel viewed the heavenly throne room from below (looking up through the sapphire pavement) and ate a sacred meal in the presence of Yahweh.  Read that passage and compare that first view with Isaiah's vision, Ezekiel's vision in Ezekiel 1:4-28, and St. John's vision in the Book of Revelation 4:1-11

3 and they were shouting these words to each other: "Holy, holy, holy is Yahweh Sabaoth.  His glory fills the whole earth." 
That they shout out a hymn of praise to God and call to each other suggests the hymn may be antiphonal.  The hymn announces God as thrice holy, which the Fathers of the Church saw as a glimpse into the mystery of the triune nature of God (Ambrose, Caesarius, Cyril of Alexandria, and Jerome to name a few).  St. Ambrose, Bishop of Milan and teacher of St. Augustine (c. 333-397) writes: "Cherubim and seraphim with unwearied voices praise him and say, 'Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God of Hosts.'  They say it not once, least you should believe that there is but one; not twice, least you should exclude the Spirit; they say not holies [in the plural], lest you should imagine that there is plurality, but they repeat three times and say the same word, that even in a hymn you may understand the distinction of persons in the Trinity and the oneness of the Godhead, and while they say this they proclaim God" (On the Holy Spirit, 3.16.110).

The "Holy, Holy, Holy" hymn the heavenly beings sing at the throne of God in the presence of the heavenly assembly should be familiar to you.  It is similar to the hymn of praise we sing in the Liturgy of the Mass.  We sing the same hymn because in the Mass Heaven and earth are joined in liturgical worship in praise of the Most Holy Trinity.  It is the same hymn St. John heard when he was caught up into the heavenly Sanctuary in Revelation 4:8.

4 The door-posts shook at the sound of their shouting, and the Temple was full of smoke.
The smoke that filled the heavenly Temple reminds us of the manifestation of God's divine Presence in the Glory Cloud (leading the children of Israel in the Exodus in Ex 13:21-22; at Sinai in the Theophany of Ex 19:16-19 and recalled in Dt 4:11-12; the desert Sanctuary in Ex 40:34-35; and the Jerusalem Temple in 1 Kng 8:10-12 and Ez 10:4).  It is probably that the whole heavenly Temple shook, but perhaps Isaiah is kneeling at the door and so he was more aware of the shaking of the door-posts.

Isaiah's response to the vision is similar to St. Peter's response to Jesus in Luke 5:8—both men were overcome by being in the presence of the holy God and were immediately aware of their sins.  God's response to Isaiah's fear and repentance is to send a seraph to touch his lips with a burning coal from the heavenly altar.  Imagine Isaiah's relief.  Crushed by self-despair brought on by the weight of his sin in God's presence and fearing his immediate destruction, he has received a complete and unmerited cleansing and is ready for the next step in his journey. Notice how each event leads to the next:

8 I then heard the voice of the Lord saying: "Whom shall I send?  Who will go for us?"  And I said, "Here am I, send me." 
For the first time it is God who speaks: Who will go for us? The same plural form in relation to the Godhead is found in Genesis 3:22—it is a foreshadowing of the mystery of the Trinity (angels do not send prophets).  Isaiah's immediate response is that he is prepared to go, even before he knows what that mission will be.  All baptized and confirmed Christians are called to provide the same willing response.  None of us can know the mission until we first say "yes' to God.

Isaiah's cleansing experience is remembered by every priest at every celebration of the Mass prior to the Gospel Reading when the priest silently prays that God will cleanse his lips that he might be worthy to proclaim God's Word.

Responsorial Psalm 138:1-5, 7c-8 ~ Singing God's Praise
The response is: "In the sight of the angels I will sing your praises, Lord."
 
1 I will give thanks to you, O LORD, with all my heart, for you have heard the words of my mouth; in the presence of the angels I will sing your praise; 2a I will worship at your holy Temple and give thanks to your name.
Response:
2b Because of your kindness and your truth; for you have made great above all things your name and your promise.  3 When I called, you answered me; you built up strength within me.
Response:
4 All the kings of the earth shall give thanks to you, O LORD, when they hear the words of your mouth; 5 and they shall sing of the ways of the LORD: "Great is the glory of the LORD."
Response:
7c Your right hand saves me.  8 The LORD will complete what he has done for me; your kindness, O LORD, endures forever; forsake not the work of your hands.
Response:

This psalm is attributed to the great King David. God called David to be His anointed agent when he was still a child.  God sent David to deliver Israel from her enemies and through him to set in motion God's divine plan for the coming of the Redeemer-Messiah.  The psalmist begins with an expression of gratitude for the blessings that come from his close relationship with the Lord.  He vows to sing God's praises in the Temple liturgy and to give thanks (verses 1-2a).  He will sing God's praises because of God's kindness to him, because of the truth of His word and God's faithfulness to His promises, which could be a reference to the covenant God made with David in 2 Samuel 7:16 that his throne will endure forever (verse 2b).  Whenever he has called upon God for His help, God has answered His servant's prayer and has given His protection (verse 3). 

In verse 4 the psalmist declares that all the kings of the earth will one day give thanks to the Lord God and acknowledge His greatness.  This event, says the psalmist, will come about when the Gentiles hear the words of God preached to them when they will sing glory to God (verse 4).  The psalmist ends with another profession of his faith and trust in God that He will complete the work done through His servant and his confidence that God's kindness "endures forever." 

If the psalmist is indeed David, he speaks prophetically of the promise of universal salvation when the Gentile kings and their peoples come to acknowledge the greatness of Israel's God.  This event will take place after the resurrection of David's heir, Jesus of Nazareth, who will send out His disciples to convert the Gentile nations that will respond with faith and repentance, receiving the baptism of salvation and entering the Kingdom of Christ's Church!

The Second Reading 1 Corinthians 15:1-11 ~ Paul's Mission to Share the Gospel
1 I am reminding you, brothers and sisters, of the Gospel I preached to you, which you indeed received and in which you also stand.  2 Through it you are also being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you, unless you believed in vain.  3 For I handed on to you as of first importance which I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures; 4 that he was buried; that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures; 5 that he appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve.  6 After that, he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at once, most of whom are still living thought some have fallen asleep.  7 After that he appeared to James, then to all the apostles.  8 Last of all, as to one born abnormally, he appeared to me.  9 For I am the least of the apostles, not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the Church of God.  10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me has not been ineffective.  Indeed, I have toiled harder than all of them; not I, however, but the grace of God that is with me.  11 Therefore, whether it be I or they, so we preach and so you believed.

In this last part of his letter to the Christians at Corinth, St. Paul reminds them that the resurrection of Jesus Christ is one of the core doctrines of Christian faith (verses 1-3).  It is the supreme argument in favor of the divine nature of Jesus and His God ordained mission (proclaimed by Jesus Himself in for example Mt 16:21-28; 17:25-27; 20:17-19).  In verses 3-8 Paul tells the faith community of Corinth that his basic message is what was given to him by Jesus Christ and which he has passed on to them:

  1. Jesus died for our sins "in accordance with the Scriptures."
  2. He was buried and laid in a grave as proof of His physical death.
  3. Jesus was raised from the dead on the third day "in accordance with the Scriptures" and appeared to many people as proof of the historical fact of His resurrection.

In stating that these events are "according with the Scriptures," Paul is probably referring to Old Testament passages that, after the events of Jesus' Resurrection, were seen to foreshadow the Resurrection event (e.g. see Jonah chapters 1-2 which Jesus referred to and applied to Himself in Mt 12:39-40; Hos 6:1-2 and Ps 16:9-10 among others).  Paul lists those to whom the resurrected Christ appeared:

  1. Jesus appeared to St. Peter (Paul calls him "Cephas," the Greek transliteration of the Aramaic name Jesus gave him, "Kepha," in Greek "Peter").
  2. Jesus appeared to the other eleven Apostles (Paul still gives them the title "the Twelve"; by the time he has written this letter there are again twelve with the election of Matthias of replace Judas Iscariot in Acts 1:21-26).
  3. Jesus appeared to five hundred other disciples some of whom are still alive.
  4. Jesus appeared to St. James, Bishop of Jerusalem (not James Zebedee or James son of Alpheus because these are listed as Apostles).
  5. Jesus appeared to "all the other apostles" probably refers to the seventy disciples and the woman disciples.
  6. Finally, Jesus appeared to St. Paul (see the three accounts of Paul's conversion experience in Acts 9:1-19; 22:3-16 and 26:2-18).

In verses 9-11 Paul refers to his dramatic encounter with the risen Christ on the Damascus Road and his call to discipleship—a call he says he didn't deserve because he was a persecutor of Christians for the Jewish Sanhedrin (Acts 8:3; 9:1-2).  He testifies that it was the grace of God that forgave him for his past sins and made him fit to fulfill his mission as Christ's chosen instrument to call the Gentiles to salvation.  It is the same grace that prepared Isaiah and Peter for their missions; and it is the same grace that prepares each of us to accept our call to discipleship and to carry forward our mission to share the Gospel of salvation.  God will not call us without equipping us for success.

The Gospel of Luke 5:1-11 ~ Jesus Calls Simon-Peter to Discipleship
1 While the crowd was pressing in on Jesus and listening to the word of God, he was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret.  2 He saw two boats there alongside the lake; the fishermen had disembarked and were washing their nets.  3 Getting into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, he asked him to put out a short distance from the shore.  Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat.  4 After he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, "Put out into deep water and lower your nets for a catch."  5 Simon said in reply, "Master, we have worked hard all night and have caught nothing, but at your command I will lower the nets."  6 When they had done this they caught a great number of fish and their nets were tearing.  7 They signaled to their partners in the other boat to come to help them.  They came and filled both boats so that they were in danger of sinking.  8 When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at the knees of Jesus and said, "Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man."  9 For astonishment at the catch of fish they had made seized him and all those with him, 10 and likewise James and John, the sons of Zebedee, who were partners of Simon.  Jesus said to Simon, "Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men."  11 When they brought their boats to the shore, they left everything and followed him.

The Sea of Galilee was known by several names including Lake Gennesaret and the Roman name that was the Sea of Tiberias (only used in St. John's Gospel).  It was the practice of Galilean fisherman to fish at night and to return to the shore at sunrise to unload the catch and to mend their nets.  Jesus asked Simon for the use of his boat as a platform from which to address the large crowd.  Mark 1:16-20 provides the information that Simon and his brother Andrew were in the fishing business and were partners with Zebedee and his sons James and John (Mt 4:18-22; Mk 1:16-20).

This was not the first the first time the Galilean fishermen had met Jesus.  They had first met Jesus when they had attended the ministry of ritual baptism for repentance by John the Baptist in Perea on the east side of the Jordan River (see Jn 1:35-51).

The vantage point of the boat provided a natural amphitheater from which to teach. Notice that, as was the custom, that Jesus sat down to teach. After His teaching, knowing that the fishermen had caught no fish the night before, Jesus told them to take the boat out again into the deep water and to lower their nets. What happened next astonished the fishermen. So many fish were caught that they had to call the other boat to help with the catch. The fishermen did not realize it but the miracle that occurred will prefigure their mission as Apostles when they will go, at Jesus' command, out into the "deep waters" of humanity to gather souls into the net of the universal Church.

Simon recognized that a miracle had taken place and that Jesus was indeed the Messiah. Coming face to face with God's Anointed, Simon-Peter was suddenly deeply aware of his sins. Notice that Simon-Peter's epiphany and commissioning by Jesus is similar to Isaiah's experience of God and his commissioning in Isaiah 6:1-10 in the First Reading. Simon-Peter also refers to Jesus as "Lord" (see Is 6:8 and compare to Lk 5:8). With the evidence of the miraculous catch of fish, Simon recognizes the vast difference between his human condition as a sinner and Jesus righteousness as the Holy One of God. It is exactly the same reaction each of us should have when we face Christ's representative, the priest, in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

Luke 5:9-11, For astonishment at the catch of fish they had made seized him and all those with him, 10 and likewise James and John, the sons of Zebedee, who were partners of Simon.  Jesus said to Simon, "Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men."  11 When they brought their boats to the shore, they left everything and followed him.
Jesus' words "from now on" (also see Lk 1:48; 2:52; 22:18; Acts 18:6) emphasize the end of Simon's old life and the beginning of his new life as Simon-Peter, Simon "the Rock" (Jn 1:42; Mt 16:18).  In his commissioning to discipleship Jesus tells Simon that the miracle of the fish catch will be eclipsed by Simon's "catch" of the lives of men and women for Christ's Kingdom.  The night of unproductive human work will be replaced by fruitful work in proclaiming the word under Jesus' authority.  "Fishers of men" is a prophetic symbol for proclaiming the Gospel in God's economy of salvation.  Simon's brother Andrew (unnamed in this episode but see the same event in Mt 4:18) and their partners James and John Zebedee will now become partners in proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  It is the beginning of Jesus' community of believers.  The fishermen made the same choice Jesus asks each of us to make—to be willing to leave everything in our earthly lives behind and to follow Him.

Jesus calls us in the same mission out into the "deep waters" of humanity to gather souls for His Kingdom of Heaven. This is why St. John Paul II chose the phrase "Go forth into the deep waters" as the moto for the new millennium of the Church in the 21st century. Are you prepared to trust Jesus and to "go forth," like the first Apostles and disciples of Jesus Christ, beyond the safety of the "shore" of your own community and out into the "deep waters" for the sake of the Kingdom of Jesus Christ?

Catechism References:
Isaiah 6:1 (CCC 1137); 6:2-3 (CCC 1138); 6:3 (CCC 2809); 6:5 (CCC 208, 2584); 6:6 (CCC 332); 6:8 (CCC 2584)
Psalm 138 (CCC 304); 138:2 (CCC 214)
1 Corinthians 15:3-5 (CCC 186); 15:3-4 (CCC 639, 652); 15:3 (CCC 519, 601, 619, 624); 15:4-8 (CCC 642); 15:4 (CCC 627); 15:5 (CCC 552, 641); 15:7-8 (CCC 857); 15:8 (CCC 659); 15:9 (CCC 752)
Luke 5:8 (CCC 208)

Michal E. Hunt Copyright © 2016